Two weeks from now it will be college football season. The offseason debates, the guessing, and all of the posturing will be over as it will be time to settle it on the field.
Of course, we'll still have our share of unsettled business and debating, as is the nature of the sport that has the best regular season and the most meaningless postseason.
While I don't get involved in the preseason polls and preseason rankings, I definitely like to look at what lies ahead. Here are a few of the questions that still burn.
Who will be the first ranked team to fall?
Since Boise State and Oregon clash on opening night, the smart money is on one of these two, but there are plenty of others who can falter early. Since only 12 teams who started the season ranked in the top 25 last season finished the season ranked, they should be falling early and often.
For the team with the highest ranking, it will more than likely be the loser of the Virginia Tech-Alabama game, as both of those teams are in the top 10.
My guess is the first ranked team to lose to an unranked team will be Florida State losing to Miami on Labor Day night.
Who will win the SEC?
All of the money seems to be on Florida in this one, and why not? The Gators are the defending national champions and return a ton of their talent. We don't see many repeat champions in college football; actually, it's never happened in the BCS era, and I don't think this is the year the trend is broken.
While Florida may get to the SEC title game, I'm going to go with LSU this year. LSU's side of the conference shapes up pretty tough, but I'm going to say they beat the Gators at home a few weeks earlier and then beat them in a rematch in the SEC title game.
While a lot can change between now and then, that's my story and I'm sticking with it.
Will someone knock off USC in the Pac-10?
USC lost just a ton of talent last year, and while the term "reload" gets tossed around regularly these days when speaking of the elite programs, history isn't as kind when looking at similar situations. The last team to have a run like USC's in top-level talent was the Miami teams of the beginning of this decade, and Miami fell the same way.
Every year we saw Miami players hitting the NFL draft board in record numbers and going very high at that. We've seen the same with the Trojans. The reality is that there is only so long this can go on before it starts to have an effect.
While replacing talent is tough enough, replacing leadership on and off the field is even tougher. USC is as ripe as they have been in years to get picked off, and teams like Oregon and Cal must be in the mindset of "if not now, when?"
What will be the game of the year?
Last season we looked at the schedule and circled the Ohio State-USC game as the biggest game of the year. By midway through the first quarter we were changing the channel and looking for a better game.
While many think this year's USC-OSU tilt has the makings of a classic, and it may, it is doubtful it will have a major effect on the big picture. The game just happens too early in the season, and history tells us it's the intra-conference battles that have the biggest impact.
I still haven't picked week one's games yet, and I have no idea how things play out, but last year we saw the Big 12 have a game of the year nearly every week. We also saw games like Ole Miss-Florida, Penn State-Iowa, and USC-Oregon State shape the college football landscape.
Just a hunch, but my guess is Oklahoma-Texas will probably be a monster game with all kinds of implications. Ohio State at Penn State will be pretty big. You might also want to clear your calendar for Nov. 7 when LSU visits Alabama.
What will be the biggest trend this season?
Last year the spread offense took over college football. A few years earlier we saw the "Wildcat Formation."
We've seen the rugby-style punt, the pooch punt, and the coffin corner. We've seen the mobile QB and one back.
This year I think we'll see plenty of new developments, but the biggest trend is going to be more freshmen than ever playing quality minutes. With more and more players leaving early, this has become more important to establish depth.
Playing early is also huge in recruiting, and it is a make or break for the country's top high school athletes. While elite players have played in the past, last year we saw a movement to where the bulk of incoming freshmen were seeing plenty of action.
With players only staying three years at most these days, it is imperative for coaches to get all of the talent they can out of them, and with the door revolving faster than ever, there are also plenty of holes on every team that need to be filled.
See Mitch's college football picks this upcoming season and enter his free picking contest with cash prizes at The Sports Chat Place.
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